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Thornton v. Chamberlain Manufacturing Corp.

Decided: February 6, 1973.


For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub, Justices Jacobs, Hall and Mountain, and Judges Conford and Sullivan. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Weintraub, C.J.


Petitioner was denied workmen's compensation benefits upon a finding that his injuries were not sustained in the course of his employment. The County Court agreed, and the Appellate Division affirmed. 118 N.J. Super. 540 (1972). We granted certification. 60 N.J. 502 (1972).

The facts are not in dispute. While employed as a production foreman with respondent, petitioner reprimanded an employee named Sozio for repeated failures to wear safety glasses, and several times reported such failures in writing to the employer. On one occasion Sozio told petitioner, "I'll take care of your eyes later." Some nine days after petitioner terminated his employment, he saw Sozio at a bar. As petitioner left, he was attacked by Sozio who said "remember me, remember me." Petitioner's injuries included total loss of vision in the right eye.

The attack obviously had its genesis in the employment in the sense that petitioner's performance of his assigned duty incurred the assailant's enmity and led to the attack. That the injuries were intentionally inflicted does not take them beyond the statute. Had Sozio struck petitioner while he was at work, petitioner would have been entitled to compensation benefits. Cierpial v. Ford Motor Co., 16 N.J. 561 (1954); Howard v. Harwood's Restaurant Co., 25 N.J. 72 (1957); Augelli v. Rolans Credit Clothing Store, 33 N.J. Super. 146 (App. Div. 1954). It was the delay in

Sozio's violent reaction that created the issue in the case, for petitioner was not at work when he was attacked; in fact his employment relationship had ended some nine days before. Because of those circumstances it was held that petitioner was not injured "in the course of" his employment and therefore not entitled to compensation.

N.J.S.A. 34:15-7 entitles an employee to compensation benefits:

"* * * for personal injuries to * * * such employee by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment."

Thus there must be injury (1) "by accident," (2) arising "out of" and (3) arising "in the course of" the employment. This test, seemingly simple, has led to volumes of opinions exploring its meaning. The constituent elements readily draw content from the legislative objective one finds in the compensation statute. If the statute is read as a narrow replacement of the common law suit between employee and employer and to continue concepts relevant to that scene, the statute will be restrained in its reach. The coverage is much more expansive if the statutory test is read to reflect a legislative purpose to transfer to the employer's enterprise the human costs reasonably related to that enterprise.

Thus the word "accident" invited disagreement as to whether some external event of an accidental quality was required or whether the unexpected injury was all the Legislature had in mind. If the common law cause of action were the proper reference, some external event would be indicated. But the legislative design to include in the employer's costs those human losses reasonably related to the operation would be furthered if the unexpected injury were itself enough to constitute an accident. That is the view we adopted. Neylon v. Ford Motor Co., 10 N.J. 325 (1952); Ciuba v. Irvington Varnish & Insulator Co., 27 N.J. 127 (1958); see Russo v. Teachers' Pension & Annuity Fund, 62 N.J. 142 (1973).

So, too, the phrase "arising out of" could mean different things. It could demand that the risk of injury be a risk peculiar to the job, or if a risk common to the public, that it be present to an uncommon degree in the employment. But again the purpose of the statute would be served if it need appear only that "but for" the employment the employee would not have experienced the injury in question, whether or not the risk of injury was generated or magnified by the employment, unless the risk of injury was personal to the employee. This is the view we embraced. See Howard v. Harwood's Restaurant Co., supra, 25 N.J. 72.

The phrase "in the course of," with which we are here concerned, also lends itself to different views. One could say the employee must be engaged in an assigned duty at the time of the injury. But that reading would unduly limit the statute's coverage. We have found, for example, that an employee on the employer's premises may be "in the course of" the employment before or after work or during a work recess. Tocci v. Tessler & Weiss, Inc., 28 N.J. 582 (1959). So too we have found exceptions to the proposition that an employee is not "in the course of" his employment in coming to and going from work. See Hammond v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 56 N.J. 7 (1970); Bergman v. Parnes Brothers, Inc., 58 N.J. 559 (1971). We found in the cited cases that the injury was sufficiently work-connected to bring the employee within the coverage of the compensation law, on the thesis that the statute "provides protection for employees, not ...

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